this is a stick-up

While we’re on the subject of legality…

When I hear the phrase “armed robbery,” I imagine a group of masked bandits shouting their way out of bank with a bag full of bills in one hand and a semi-automatic rifle in the other. When I hear that someone has been convicted of armed robbery, I imagine that said person has been convicted of a pretty intense and ballsy crime. I imagine a person rolling into a store with pistols blazing, and then driving through a plate-glass window and on into the sunset. Well, that’s what I used to imagine anyway. Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time a person I am acquainted with needed a pair of swimming goggles. Short on cash, said person went into a department store, took a pair of swimming goggles, and left without paying. A store detective noticed this, called the police, and followed the goggle thief through town. When the police arrived and confronted this person, they found the swimming goggles, as well as a Leatherman and a can of pepper spray. Although said person had not, say, threatened store employees with the pepper spray or the pocket knife or the tiny eye-glass screwdriver in the pocket knife (and although it is completely legal to carry pepper spray—as many people who have to walk through scary places at night do—and Leathermans), the police charged and convicted him/her of armed robbery.

Armed robbery sounds intense. Maybe even a little scary. Stealing a pair of goggles, on the other hand, just sounds kind of silly, and calling it armed robbery sounds even sillier. You spend your whole life thinking that people with convictions like armed robbery attached to their name have committed some sort of dramatic, life-endangering (to others) crime, and then you find out that the same charge is attached to piddley little things like shoplifting and POW suddenly the whole world turns upside down and you realize that all this talk about “justice” through the courst system is just so many more lines from the script of the theater of the absurd.

Whether or not you find theft of any magnitude a crime worthy of contempt, I think cases like this are an excellent reminder to think critically, whether of the court system that groups goggle theives and bank robbers in the same category or the body of media that uses the vocabulary of the latter without acknowledging (or explaining) the potential spectrum of meaning behind their jargon.

Photo (cc) flickr user shelmac

0 Comments on “this is a stick-up

  1. I’m still trying to figure out why it’s illegal for me to buy milk. Or to sell jam I made in my kitchen. Or the latest, to use ketchup made in a home kitchen at a public event. Gasp!

  2. Joe Salatin’s book title ran through my head a couple of times while writing this… “Everything I want to do is illegal.” At the time I was thinking a bunch about building codes and how small houses tend to fall under illegal. Oje.

  3. Additionally, public urination can carry charges of indecent exposure, which in turn can lead said people convicted of such a charge to be placed on the national registry of sex offenders!

  4. He actually writes a lot in there about building codes as well, and how frustrating it is that he can’t build a little retirement house for he and his wife on their property.

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